Sweet Potato Fuel

Cindy Zimmerman

Sweet PotatoesResearchers at North Carolina State University are re-engineering the traditional sweet potato to make it better suited for producing ethanol.

According to a NCSU release, this industrial sweet potato doesn’t look, or taste, much like the Southern classic, but can produce twice the starch content of corn – the leading source of ethanol. More starch means more sugars that can be fermented into biofuel.

Project leader Craig Yencho, associate professor of Horticultural Science, is also working with another colleague on a way to further boost sugar — and thus ethanol — yield. By using bacteria from deep-sea thermal vents they are creating an industrial sweet potato that practically processes itself into ethanol.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop a self-processing sweet potato,” says Dr. Yencho, noting that the special genes could reduce the cost of enzymes that are used by biofuel processors to break down the starch in corn to sugars which are then converted into alcohol by fermentation.

North Carolina produces about 40 percent of the U.S. sweet potato crop and the industrial sweet potato could help diversify the state’s farm income.

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